Thursday 14 January 2010

The blame culture, chapter 461

15st 6lb, 1.5 units. I was dressed smartly in my suit when our managing agent turned up at 8.30 to get to the bottom of our heating crisis. By doing so, I hoped to project an air of responsibility and authority, rather than exuding the defeated aura of an incompetent prat. “No need to dip the tank,” I said, “It’s completely empty.” I naturally heaped all the blame on Mrs H as soon as were out of earshot of the house. I added that I could hardly believe we were consuming kerosene at the rate of more than 200 litres a week. “More like a thousand a month, I’d say”, the agent responded briskly, making it sound even worse. If we were in the North East I would assume that some chancer had nipped up our drive and siphoned off a load of the stuff, but even though she is not the most observant of people, the fact that Mrs H and The Baby are in the house 24/7 means that attempting it here would demand a degree of cheek I do not automatically associate with rural Cheshire.

I, on the other hand, have always prided myself on being among the most observant people on the planet, so my mortification was nicely completed when the agent led me across the yard and pointed out the two socking great red propane gas bottles which would have fuelled our alternative heat source in the sitting room, if only the supply had not run out 20 minutes after we first switched it on back in September. It took me a further five minutes to figure out that the house was not on a mains gas supply, and that there must therefore be bottles or a tank somewhere, but I had scoured the obvious places to no avail. Following the gas pipes as they emerged through the exterior wall of the sitting room achieved nothing, as they merely plunged back into the house by the boiler room. I undertook a comprehensive survey of the external walls and other places with easy access, where I would expect gas bottles to be placed, and found precisely nothing. So, as is my usual practice, I gave up. Imagine my chagrin at being shown them lurking behind a wall close by the oil tank, albeit well concealed by a strategically planted holly bush.

The agent promised to use his influence to get the local oil supplier to improve on their offer to make a delivery next week. Then I staggered off to my client’s office, pretending that I had important work to do, but mainly so that I could keep reasonably warm. At least I was able to assure Mrs H, after a much less alarming journey than those I have endured over the last few days, that it should be safe to venture down the lane from our house. This was a relief to both of us, as she was definitely beginning to display most of the symptoms of going completely stir crazy. Rarely can a 25-mile round trip to a branch of Sainsbury’s have afforded so much simple joy to anyone.

This evening Mrs H prepared a prompt supper as the latest prong of her multi-faceted attempt to get me to lose weight, this one being designed to remove the temptation to fill up on snacks as soon as I walk through the door. Said desire for food being excited by the stiff drink I feel the need to pour as soon as I enter the house, in an attempt to expunge the memory of my latest close brush with death on the ice in the lane. Typically, no sooner had she “plated it up” (as they say in the catering trade, I believe) than a young man turned up in a tanker with our 1,000 litres of kerosene. Promised “a better rate” if I simply allowed him to fill our tank to the brim, my hoarding instincts took over and I ended up signing for more than double that. I was all prepared to press the button on the boiler and restore warmth to the house when he strongly advised me to do no such thing as the system would “need bleeding” and I was highly likely to wreck the fuel pump if I tried to start it up unaided. No, far better to wait until tomorrow morning when he would ensure that his uncle dropped by to get things running and drop off our cylinders of gas. So we huddled around our inadequate heater, ate our now rather lukewarm ready meal and looked determinedly on the bright side for the remainder of the evening. It wasn’t too hard, to be fair. At least we aren’t in Haiti.